[This post is by guest-writer Line Løvåsen].
The military-industrial complex
War makes a profit (in monetary terms), peace doesn’t. President Eisenhower warned us in a speech in 1961 about the military-industrial complex (MIC):
We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. (source)
The MIC is a state-industry alliance and the only part of economic production intent on destruction and conducted in secrecy.
The post-Cold-War world
In its “Arms availability report” (1999), the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) shows how the changes in conflicts and the evolving “security-business” are reflected in the military-industrial complex. During the Cold War, weapons were available for global political and strategic purposes. Nowadays, weapon transfers (a broader term than arms trade, including not only commercial sales) imply economic and employment considerations, not just military/political/strategic ones as before.
Arms control has suffered a breakdown in the post Cold War-world. The industry operates at the moment without regulation. Annual global military spending is the same as the debt of all development countries. Arms producing countries earn more on arms sales to developing countries, than they give in aid. The 5 biggest arm producers are permanent members of the Security Council. The biggest clients are often developing countries with highly authoritarian governments. Selling arms to those countries leads to increased oppression of local people and a higher risk of violent conflict. People are aware that the oppression by their leaders is supported by western arms sales (and in other ways), which creates anti-western resentment.
The withdrawal of superpower support after the end of the Cold War has resulted in in a breakdown of governing stuctures in many countries. Decentralization of control and of the chain of command has created power vacuums in many states. Weapons end up in the hands of war lords and militia groups, and turned against civilians.
There is a “small arms plague” in the world today. The post-Cold-War breakdown of many states, resulting from superpower withdrawal, has led to many intrastate conflicts. Small-arms and light weapons (SALW) are well-suited to such conflicts because of their simplicity, durability, portability, the ability to conceal, low cost and wide availability and lethality. Small arms are hand guns, pistols, sub-machine guns, mortars, landmines, grenades and light missiles. There are 500 billion of these weapons around the world, and 1134 companies producing and selling them. These weapons are also highly suited for illicit trafficking and operation by children (more on child soldiers here). Small arms are, in fact, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s), according to the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).
The spread of small arms is both a cause and effect of underdevelopment and poverty. The growing availability of small arms has been a major factor hindering post-conflict rebuilding and development. Instead of being able to focus on investment in well-being and economic development, the poor are burdened with the cost of nursing the injured and paying for informal forms of security, like paramilitary groups. Much of the initiative to reduce and control small arms has been left to the poor communities themselves, with little help from the rest of the world, which seems more interested in economic self-interest. Especially the arms producing and exporting countries are more concerned about the possible consequences of arms control on their own economies. And it doesn’t help that many governments capable of donating funds towards arms control do not recognize civilian ownership of arms as a problem.
Some 300,000 to half a million people around the world are killed by small arms each year. These weapons are the major cause of civilian casualties in modern conflicts. 80-90% injured during war come from small arms. It’s strange therefore that the focus of many in the West is on controlling weapons of mass destruction, proliferation of atomic weapons, biological and chemical weapons, and that they leave the trade of conventional weapons and small arms unfettered.
The arms industry’s influence on politics
One reason is of course the profitability of this trade. But the influence of the arms industry on politics isn’t limited to the small arms niche. Notwithstanding the fact that most future security threats will be caused by terrorism and internal wars resulting from state failure, many governments still equip their armies for large interstate conflict. This, like government passivity regarding small arms, is the result of the influence of the arms industry on politics.
The economic benefits of the arms industry
The report “Escaping the Subsidy Trap: why arms exports are bad for Britain (2004)” from the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), counters the economic myths that the UK government uses to justify its support for arms exports.
The government frequently cites protection of defense jobs as a key reason for supporting arms exports. The BASIC report, however, concludes
- employment dependent on arms exports, constitutes only 0.25 percent of the national labor force
- far from providing jobs, it diverts skilled workers and investment away from more effective job-creating activity in the civil economy
- often the weapons are produced abroad, and sold to other countries.
It’s clear that some corporations and governments profit for the arms trade, not the people and the economy.
The UK government states that arms exports contribute significantly to the balance of payments and thus benefit the wider economy. The report concludes that defense exports’ share of total UK exports has consistently reduced over recent years; the economic benefits of arms exports are insignificant.
Some statistics on the arms trade and on military spending.